One day the world will go back to normal – or will it?
Few of us are thinking too hard about the future right now. Just getting through each day is enough. Quite rightly, our headspace is dominated by the need to keep everyone fed, fit, entertained and – if necessary – educated, during this strangest of springs.
But one day this too will pass. The lockdown will be relaxed, and eventually lifted. Children will return to school or nursery and parents (hopefully) to work. Bars, shops, playgrounds, restaurants and coffee shops will reopen. Life will return to something resembling normality.
So when all this is over, and we can focus beyond the here and now, will anything really change? And how will COVID-19 change us as fathers – if at all? Here are our predictions for fatherhood and family life in a post-COVID world.
1. Family time reinvented
Aside from key workers, most of us are spending more time with our children than ever before. Even dads who worked long hours before the outbreak are now fully engaged with family life. All of us are getting to know our children like never before – their sulks, moods and meltdowns as well as their joyful exuberance and infectious positivity.
Many dads will be appreciating this aspect of the lockdown, if little else. And dads who in normal times would be spending long hours away from home may be less keen to return to the status quo. The life-affirming buzz of family life may prove as infectious as the virus itself. Which could be a very good thing, and leads us nicely on to…
2. Remote working in a post-COVID world
We’ve been there and done it. We’re all Zoom / Houseparty/ Microsoft Teams fans now. Many of us have been as productive at home as we ever were in the workplace. Could coronavirus spark new demands for more flexible working, allowing dads to work from home on at least one or two days a week?
It’s certainly a far more realistic proposition now, because more firms have put the infrastructure in place to enable home working. Many businesses will have ironed out the obstacles to remote productivity, making it far easier for dads to ask for more flexibility when the world returns to normal.
How will companies react? They could find it hard to catch the cat they have let out of the bag. As Matt Mullenweg, chief executive of WordPress and Tumblr owner Automattic, said: “Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick… This might be a chance for a great reset in terms of how we work.”
Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes
Noshina Kiani from the CIPD went a step further to tell DaddiLife: “In my opinion, during this enforced home-working situation both employers and employees have had a chance to try out what it would be like to work more remotely and it will either work in their favour in terms of they can see it working well and would continue it, or they may have encountered some challenges and barriers they have had to overcome quite quickly so would be better prepared to do this in the future or decide against it. Either way, the world we live and work in will not be the same again.”
3. A simpler life
What will we do with all that extra time at home? Perhaps not all the same things that we were doing before. Normal parental routines are often a non-stop battle against boredom, as we rush our children from one extracurricular activity to the next, and from cafe lunches to cinema outings and back again.
Instead, we’ve all been forced to learn simpler pleasures. A walk in the woods, even with the kids scooters, feels like a treat. Cooking together is far more satisfying than throwing a take-away on the table. Boredom is not the great tyranny we once thought it was.
In other words, we’ve managed OK, without the world of distraction we normally rely on. Some of that self-sufficiency might survive the COVID outbreak. It would be a good thing for our wellbeing – and our wallets – if it did.
4. The coronavirus recession
The economy is tanking, and with it will go jobs, contracts and working hours. Nothing puts a strain on family life like poverty. In study after study, children from the poorest families had the worst relationships with parents.
Economists have said that “the collapse in activity and the accompanying rise in unemployment looks to be at least 10 times faster than in the Great Recession of 2007-9.”
The hope here is that the government’s aid packets are enough to keep most businesses solvent, and that the lockdown can be lifted, at least in part, in a relatively short space of time. That won’t stave off recession, but it might make the downturn shorter and shallower than it might otherwise become.
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5. A more fearful post-COVID society
Finances are the main threat to family life post-COVID, but perhaps fear comes a close second. Life suddenly seems more fragile than it did just a few short months ago. The certainties we felt in January – like an endless supply of pasta! – already seem a little naive in April.
Anxieties might linger long after the virus has started to slink away. We need to guard against fear infecting our parenting. Children need to be children, free to play and explore and enjoy. We need to feed their joy, not their fear. The understandable instinct to hug our children ever closer to us, battening down the hatches and always being on the lookout for danger, even when the immediate threat passes, could be a self-destructive consequence of the pandemic.
All of this is just guesswork, of course. Three months after the pandemic has ended the world may be back to just the way it was, for both good and ill. But it shouldn’t be. The post-COVID world will present challenges and opportunities. Let’s meet the former head on and grasp the latter in any way we can.